Thursday, August 19, 2010

Living a Better Story

The September after I turned fifteen years old, my mother taught a creative thinking workshop. I thought I didn't remember much about the workshop when I first sat down here. But as my mind went back, I began to mine up details I should have forgotten long ago.

I remember my shape was a triangle. My color was pink. I described myself as one thousand years old. I stayed up all night long to write a piece of poetry my friend Sarah would dance to as I read aloud. I remember it rained the night before. I remember one assignment was to write about one of my ambitions.

What did I want to do with my life?

I wanted to open a youth center. Specifically, a safe place for inner city kids to come. Laundry facilities, cafeterias, basketball courts, music venues. We'd have church there on Sundays, I imagined. But even at fifteen, I was incredibly adamant about Jesus' love transcending through every day of the week. I knew "church" on Sundays is not what changes people's lives.

Over the next few years the dream would swirl around in the forefront of my mind, eventually settle in a corner, and begin to collect dust.

It was still there.

But I wasn't acknowledging it.

I started college when I was seventeen. I can't even remember what I thought I was going to school for back then. But I do know I went through a few different majors, but could never find a good fit. School was only a formality. I had no goal and no real passion for anything I was doing.

When I was nineteen, I met someone who taught me how to love people. A love that made lives intertwine, provided for needs, comforted the hurting, acknowledged the ignored.

This felt more like a move in the right direction than anything had before.

I remember holding my breath through Anatomy and Physiology class. Crying my way through consumer math. BSing my way through biology. I thought I wanted to be a nurse. Or an occupational therapist. As much as I loved people, I thought I didn't want to work with little kids. I thought I didn't want to live in the ghetto. I thought I would never live overseas.

In the spring of 2009, I took my first social work class.

The idea, which had been resting patiently in the corner of my conscious, began to stir. Stretching tight muscles and blinking sleep eyes, the idea awoke and began to demand my attention.

In the summer of 2009, I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I also did a Bible study on risking taking and discernment of the Holy Spirit. The combination of those three things, and my own restlessness, propelled me forward into a season of divine discomfort and yearning.

I wanted to do something. I wanted to be someone. My language changed and I began to talk and pray about living a better story.

Last summer was also the summer I got sick. We still don't know what was wrong... but the ominous word cancer kept floating around and bumping into my conversations. I was uninsured, miserably sick, and determined, whatever the outcome, to live well.

$3,000 worth of medical bills later, I dropped out of school. Classes would have to wait until I could get my debt paid off. This sudden hiccup in the plan only spurred the restlessness I had been feeling for months.

Restlessness is what motivates me. When I get uncomfortable in my own skin, when I don't know where home is, when I start to itch I know it's time for something to change. So I started praying.

I heard God tell me to get my passport.

I applied for a passport, got eight different shots, bought bug spray, and hopped on a plane to East Africa.


Then Restlessness threw deuces up and went home after I landed in Addis Ababa.

I was living a better story. I suddenly found myself in the very throes of character building and plot thickening and dramatic scenery (there were monkeys too... I've come to the conclusion that if your story includes exotic animals, it has great potential).

Africa changed everything.

Africa wrecked me.

I came home and cried myself to sleep under a homemade blanket, which smelled like the postal shops of Addis.

Transition is one of the trickiest parts of a story.

In March of 2010 I came home from Africa finding myself changed and the rest of my world strangely and frustratingly the same. But Frustration, like Restlessness, usually pushes (shoves?) me in the direction I need to go.

Which was how one cool night at the end of March I found myself standing in one particular front yard.

Some friends of mine started a ministry last fall - a real grassroots effort. They adopted the east end of Lexington, which backs up to the free clinic Southland runs. And by adopted I mean, they bring people groceries. Give people beds. Know their names and their stories and when their birthdays are.

I was skeptical for the first seven months of the ministry. Praying for them, but harboring cynicism. Diligently ignoring all the emails and all the requests for my participation.

But things change.

I changed.

And there I was. On East Second Street, in the dark front yard of a crooked shot gun house, watching my friends load a new dryer onto the front porch. It had not been, by definition, a special night. But God had spoken to me. Stirred something deep in my belly, reminding me of my dream. Reminding me of who He made me to be...

Or perhaps telling me for the first time.

As my mind played with the idea, turning it over and over and finding it strangely familiar, I began to hear the sound of children. Running and screaming, they burst through the front screen door (which was missing its screen). Before I really knew what was happening, I was holding a little boy in my arms.

He was laughing hysterically, after launching himself off the porch and bravely flying in my unprepared arms. He told me his name and said he was seventy-two years old. I told him seventy-two years old didn't get to be held like little kids. He shook his head, adamantly reassuring me he was in fact, only six.

While he talked to me, he played with my hair.

Just a few moments later I was ushered into the house. "Here," a teenage girl said to me.

She handed me a baby.

So there I was, standing in a stranger's house, with pit bulls scratching at the bedroom door behind me, holding a teenage girl's three week old baby; happier than a clam.

Five months later, I now help lead this ministry. I am in charge of new volunteers (as this grassroots effort now serves over 50 homes in the east end and has about sixty volunteers show up every Tuesday night). My job is to make sure none of them end up going in a house alone... I don't tell them that's how I got here.

On Friday nights, a small group of us meet down at the medical clinic. Inspired by an elementary-school-age girl who wanted help making a Mother's Day gift, about fifteen volunteers and twice as many children show up for what we have come to call "Kids Club". We feed the children and play games; we have taught Bible stories and taught the boys not to hit the girls. We have plans for tutoring this school year and we have our hopeful eye on an abandoned community center down the street, which has basketball courts and laundry facilities...

We are called to live a better story with our lives. That's the key word here, I think. Better. Continuous. Growing. Progressive.

You see, I'm restless again. I start college back next week; finally, after paying off all that medical debt I am going back to finish my BASW. Facing financial challenges and schedule conflicts and a quiet, but strong, desire to return to Africa... I'm looking ahead.

I want to break cycles of poverty and abuse. I want to have to go to so many highschool graduations I can't keep track; I want to watch these children (I've come to love them like they're my own) become athletes and artists and businesswomen and fathers. I want to watch them live excellent lives. I want to help them overcome conflict. I want to introduce them to Jesus. Living a better story with my life means helping others lives better stories with theirs.

I think, perhaps, the next step in living a better story with my own life is to understand potential. As intuitive and perceptive as I can be, I often fail to remember just because I can't do something now doesn't mean I never can. Especially because I thought I didn't want to work with little kids. I thought I didn't want to live in the ghetto. I thought I would never live overseas.

I changed.

And I need to be bold.

With my life, I want to tell you a story about risk and adventure and conflict and triumph.

Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Heart of Flesh

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

Was it just yesterday I realized how suppressed I had become? Just yesterday I realized... I'd taught myself not to feel?

I imagined easing myself back into a full spectrum of emotion. Maybe, if I went slowly, I could bypass the emotions I had set out to eradicate anyway.

I am not sure at what point Jon mentioned these words from Ezekiel. But I sat there and felt as though he spoke them over me. And God, who had situated Himself in between my shoulder blades, whispered "Let Me."

Let you ... what?

Wake you up.

Oh. But I am awake. It's fine. I've just learned how to cope.

I never intended for you just to cope, my love. Coping was not part of My plan.

I'd really rather not feel those old things again, though. Really. I feel pretty at peace.

Peace? You feel pretty numb, actually. What I have to offer you is not the absence of something. I'm quite a bit stronger than those old things you're afraid of. But if you don't let Me wake you up... you're going to miss out. You're going to forget who you are...

He was asking permission to shake me.

To splash my face with cold water. Raise me from a coma of self preservation.

Alright... go ahead. Take this heart...

Have you ever felt the pinch of severed nerves growing back together? Sharp, healing pain.

God had been hovering. Waiting for me. We had not gotten to the point of disconnect where He was going to act without permission. It was still my choice. He waited patiently, suspended over me, His breath like wind on my face. In the very moment I conceded... He reached for my sleeping heart.

My heart wasn't made of stone. Not yet. But it was callused and rough. Untrusting. Because people can disappoint me. People break my heart. I love them, but there's a wall - for my protection and for theirs. If that wall crumbles, I'm subject to great hurt. Vulnerable.

I might lose you. Or you might leave.

There, then, was a twinge in my heart. Maybe even, like a limb that's gone numb and slowly begins to wake up as you move it. The pain of feeling.

My heart had just fallen asleep.

And exactly as I'd feared, like a tidal wave or a swollen current, there came the tears. Tears for orphans in the DR. For my friends without beds. For the babies I didn't hold in Yaso. I cried for my own loneliness and my own sense of disorientation.

Compassion woke up inside of me.

After I'd let go of all those tears, and then some, I prayed expectantly. Confidently, once again.

Take this heart...

It's been Mine for a while now. Don't worry.

Well, then. If You're going to ask me feel to the sadness and fear and loneliness I was trying to avoid... would You release me to feel the joy and excitement and hope I buried along the way too?

He laughs at me when I talk to Him like this.

Let's go...

I have a lot of digging to do. Some sifting and some sorting.

He's stirring my soul.

He's shaken me awake.

Deep He is, calling to the deepest parts of me.

Like He calls to the depths of tombs. A beckoning more powerful than fear of vulnerability or the grip of death.

Sometimes... God works ridiculously fast.

Wake up, o sleeper...

Sunday, August 15, 2010


In Ventian history, you could hire a man to lead you down the dark streets with a lantern. His job was to protect you from whatever lurked in the shadows. To provide light and comfort. Such a man was called a codega.

My path is taking a turn in the next few weeks. Off a course I've been following for a few years now, I am stepping into very shadowy, very ominous territory. If only because it is unfamiliar, I am uneasy. I do not know the way.

Much like when I am given directions to a place I've never been before, it doesn't matter how thorough or accurate those directions are, I am nervous and doubtful until I see the very first landmark. Until directions or instructions are proven solid, I have a tendency to anticipate a mix up. When you said turn 'right', you didn't really mean 'left'... did you?

I don't do well with new things. Strange really, since at times I have an insatiable craving for change.

I've been told I'm fairly short-sighted. Being an intuitive, emotional, perceiver... I project my vision far beyond my sight. Life hasn't happened yet, though. So I can't seem to figure out how it will work. One step at a time is the hardest concept I have ever tried to grasp.

One step at a time takes more courage than I have.

So here I am: craving adventure, wanting to shake things up. Every once in a while, desiring thrill more than anything else in this world.

Sometimes, however, I suppress my emotions so much, I fail to have them. A few years ago, in an attempt to overcome social anxiety, I subconsciously pushed Nervousness all the way down into my belly. And without knowing it,
Nervousness tried to drag Fear, Excitement, Anger, Passion, Sadness, and Joy with it.

I've been on a rescue mission ever since. Saving the wide spectrum of emotions from a poison called Apathy.

But as the path takes a sharp turn to the left, I find myself standing on the curb. Shadows dance around me and the path ahead is so winding I can't see very far at all. I know it's a long path. I know it's a hard one.

What I don't know, is if I have what it takes.

As I wait to step into the crosswalk, which will take me onto my new path, I hear a simple reminder. "You have what it takes to take one step forward."

It's true.

I'm trying to read ahead. Skip to the end of the book, spoil the secret ending. I cannot get there from here.

Although there is light, I find I am trying to walk out of it.

What I need is a codega. Someone to come and walk in front of me. Casting light on the path ahead. Scaring away demons and thieves. Offering direction and comfort.

John 8:12: Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

One step at a time.

Walk in light. Walk in love. Never getting ahead of the One who leads.

Because I don't know where I'm going.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Sometimes... I just have bad days.

I don't yell a lot. And I certainly don't cry a lot.

I do think a lot. But not everyone gets to hear those thoughts.

Because I don't trust a lot either.

But sometimes... I just have bad days.

Days when I find myself walking through Kroger, pushing a cart, crying into the phone as I pick out blueberries.

Weaving in and out of stands of bananas and full grocery carts, crying and sniffling and verbally expressing my anger with God.

It didn't start out as anger. No. Anger buries itself deep, deep down. There are always a lot of layers to pull back before anger rears its head. Today, exhaustion set in first.

I worshipped this morning... and I felt the tug on my heart. "Loosen up those ties," I heard Him whisper. But I knew what untying meant. Untying means falling apart. I was tied together - neatly, tightly. I didn't want to unravel.

But as I was walking out of church, I ran into Marty. One of the very best men in my life, he gave me a sweaty hug, and the floodgates opened. He hugged me again and sat down with me for an hour. Listening. Watching me cry in a way only a man who had known me my entire life could do. He did for me what no other man in my family does these days. He listened.

But that was just the first layer. Complete emotional exhaustion. Check.

As we peeled back layers of insecurity and restlessness and loneliness... I began to feel shaken. Exposed. Depleted.

By the time I got to Kroger, I was so pissed I might have taken it out on the frozen food section.

True frustration, true anger, was surfacing because a lack of understanding. Because I know the truth. Because I know what I have been promised. Because I know what seasons and cycles mean.

But I cannot see.

In my blindness, I called something anger. Anger that was really just a longing. Anger that was really just hope deferred.

I got so mad I hung up the phone.

How was it that every single week, I trust God to hold back the rain at 7pm on Tuesday nights?

Even when it's pouring the rain, I'll stand in the empty gravel parking lot. Waiting. Expectantly.

Every Tuesday night, right before 7 pm, the rain stops.

So why is it... that with the rest of my life... I have a hard time believing the rain will stop?

That tuition will be covered. That this place God has me, with lots and lots of closed doors, will eventually start bearing fruit. That one day... I won't do all of it alone.

I stood in the aisle at Kroger, staring at jars of marinara and alfredo sauces.

And then my angry heart broke open.

Because, in all honesty, anger is never the final emotion. Never the last feeling.

My angry shell cracked then, as I picked up my alfredo sauce, and prayed.

"I don't even know what to ask You for. I'm just really hurt. And I'm really tired. Really, really tired of having a bad day."

Now... it doesn't always happen this way.

But my Father knows me.

And whether I recognized it or not, He knew I just needed to be restored.

I needed to surpass all this understanding I have... and my heart needed to be reminded.

I needed peace.


In a matter of moments, peace overcame me. Washed over me and filled my empty places and dried my tears and lifted up the broken pieces and swept the floor of my heart.

What hadn't made sense five minutes before had been cast away; where there had been no hope, my spirit was suddenly lifted.


I still don't know what to ask for.

And I still have a crazy desire for an adventure (my exact words, while picking out salad I think, were that I wanted to blow something up or leave for Africa again).

But in a a moment, standing over jars of alfredo sauce, I gave Jesus the authority.

And He quieted my storm.